Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate. (3.11)
Mitch is thinking that happiness is quantitative (measured with amount instead of quality). The flaw in this idea? He's "squeezing" in happiness like he's in some sort of race. He's "controlling" his life, which is going to leave him anxious, tired, and empty. Not happy.
I wandered around in my early twenties, paying rent and reading classifieds and wondering why the lights were not turning green for me. My dream was to be a famous musician (I played the piano), but after several years of dark, empty nightclubs, broken promises, bands that kept breaking up and producers who seemed excited about everyone but me, the dream soured. (3.4)
Mitch is living in the illusion that youth is going to magically explode with good things and he's not really going to have to work that hard for them. He realizes that this is unrealistic and he is left very… unhappy. He starts to doubt life a little.
But Morrie, this new, withered version of a man I had once known so well, was smiling in the car, hands folded in his lap, waiting for me to emerge. (5.8)
After following the totally wrong idea of happiness, Mitch comes face to face with his old professor who is much older and sicker than he looked years ago. At the same time, however, he looks happier than Mitch has ever described himself being.
"But there are days when I am depressed. Let me not deceive you. I see certain things going and I feel a sense of dread. What am I going to do without my hands? What happens when I can't speak?" (11.10)
Morrie admits that his state of happiness is very hard work, and doesn't always pan out. He's affected by fear and depression just like anybody else, and goodness knows that Morrie has more reason to be miserable than many people right now.
They also missed compassion—something the staff ran out of quickly. And many of these patients were well-off, from rich families, so their wealth did not buy them happiness or contentment. It was a lesson he never forgot. (16.9)
Morrie understands that money can't buy happiness when he realizes that many of the patients at the mental hospital he works at come from wealthy families, yet are completely unhappy and feel like they have nothing.
"Mitch, it is impossible for the old not to envy the young. But the issue is to accept who you are and revel in that. This is your time to be in your thirties. I had my time to be in my thirties, and now is my time to be seventy-eight." (17.46)
Morrie points out an important key to happiness: You can't envy other people and wish to be something that you aren't. This comment also ties into Mitch's false ideas about youth bringing happiness. You can wish for something that you can't have, but it won't make you happy.
These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can't substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship. (18.8)
Morrie talks about how people expect money to fill a void in their life that can only be filled by other people. The more you invest money into your happiness, the more unhappy that you'll be. Morrie knows from experience, since he's at a point in his life where he needs company more than ever—money doesn't even come close to cutting it.
"Part of the problem, Mitch, is that everyone is in such a hurry," Morrie said. "People haven't found meaning in their lives, so they're running all the time looking for it. They think the next car, the next house, the next job. Then they find those things are empty, too, and they keep running." (19.57)
Sounds kind of like Mitch when he was young, doesn't it? Life becomes this mad race to accumulate things in the name of piling up happiness. The race gets more and more desperate, though, because people don't get happier and they don't have any time to stop and rethink their priorities.
"But the poor kids today, either they're too selfish to take part in a real loving relationship, or they rush into marriage and then six months later, they get divorced. They don't know what they want in a partner. They don't know who they are themselves—so how can they know who they're marrying?" (20.43)
People are eager for love—love makes people happy—but they don't take the time to find the right kind of love because they're so eager to hurry up and get it. And because they're so impatient to receive love, they don't know how to give it. Which won't make either party happy.
After all these months, lying there, unable to move a leg or a foot—how could he find perfection in such an average day?
Then I realized this was the whole point. (24.46-47)
Mitch asks Morrie to describe his idea of the perfect day, and he answers by detailing a totally normal day at home with his family. At first Mitch doesn't understand why he'd pick such a normal day if he could choose anything, but here's the secret: Morrie has realized that the truest happiness lies in the little things around him.